Award negotiations update #4
February 25, 2000
Members would be aware that yesterday, 24 February was the date scheduled for the conclusion of Award negotiations. It was also the day on which the second $350 payment was to be made. Neither occurred.
The elected officials of the State Committee of Management are meeting today to consider our Union’s position. In the interim, the Department’s latest correspondence – which is their summary of the status of negotiations to date – is provided immediately below for members’ information. The Department is seeking to extend the negotiation deadline by a further 4 weeks.
I do not propose to comment further upon the situation prior to the State Committee’s deliberations. A more comprehensive update will be faxed to all stations and posted to our website later this afternoon. What I can say is that the Union office has already received dozens of telephone calls this morning from members angry with the Department’s latest failure (in a line of many) to keep to their end of a deal. I do not expect the State Committee’s reading of the situation to be any different.
State Secretary Friday 25th February, 2000
New South Wales Fire Brigades
227 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
PO Box A249 Sydney South 1232
24 February 200
Mr Chris Read
NSW Fire Brigade Employees’ Union
Dear Mr Read
Re: Negotiations On Proposed Successor Award To Cover Permanent Firefighters
I refer to the ‘Statement of Agreed Framework’ entered into by the New South Wales Fire Brigades (the Department), the New South Wales Fire Brigade Ernployees’ Union (the FBEU) and the Public Employment Office (PEO) on 15 December 1999 to progress both the Death and Disability matter, and Firefighters’ award negotiations. I also refer to numerous meetings between representatives of the Department and the FBEU from 10 January 2000 to the present in seeking a consent award for Permanent firefighters, and the exchange of documents to assist resolution of outstanding matters.
As you are well aware, the Government’s current public sector pay offer is for a 16% pay rise over a 4.5 year time frame. It is proposed that this will be paid to employees in instalments of 2%, 2%, 3%, 4% and 5% respectively, in the specific case of Permanent firefighters, and in recognition of the productivity improvement that has been delivered from the regional service enhancement program, the offer is for a 17% increase over the 4.5 year period, with the additional 1% paid at the ‘front end’ of the agreement. The FBEU proposal for the 17% to be paid in a different manner is outside the Government’s framework, and would be breaking new ground.
You would also be aware of the instruction to all Government Departments from Treasury that while Government will fund 2% per instalment, productivity improvements must be identified which will pay, in real dollar terms, for the remaining 6%. Each 1% equates to around $1.83 million for Permanent firefighters, meaning that the Department must identify savings of the order of $11 million in order to fund the full 16%.
It is acknowledged that in a virtually fixed-cost organisation such as the New South Wales Fire Brigades, it is always going to be difficult to find such savings. Nevertheless, a number of initiatives were identified by the Department which would result in savings that could then be used to help fund the productivity component of salary increases under the Government’s proposal. Proposals that have been advanced which lead to further costs for the Department must inevitably mean that productivity improvements have to be even greater, to fund both the proposals if accepted, and general salary increases.
One initiative identified by the Department was the eventual redeployment of 51 staff positions which will become surplus in coming years due to new automatic fire alarm technology, and the planned establishment of a new fire station at Yennora which will enable closure of Guildford and Fairfield stations (while maintaining required fire cover standards). While the greatest savings from this redeployment could be realised by simply reducing the Brigades’ strength by 51, it was instead agreed that they would be redeployed to areas such as new Operational Commander positions (10) and country Inspector positions (10). This would lead to some notional savings to the Department, and create additional promotion opportunities for officers and firefighters
The FBEU’s counter proposal, advanced on 17 February 2000 introduced a claim for a “two for one” staffing deal, similar to that introduced for the redeployment of water tanker staff. The effect of this claim is to not only redeploy 51 staff, but to also recruit an additional 51. This would involve increased costs of around $7 million, leaving no “productivity” savings whatsoever to be applied to pay rises. This demand effectively stops the Department from further progress, given the negotiating parameters within which it must operate.
It is also noted that the other major cost saving, building up stations to Station Officer and 4 in order to provide self-relief rather than relying on a relieving corps, was also rejected on 17 February after indications that it “might have wings”. This places the Department in an even more invidious position with regard to the requirement to identify cost savings.
The FBEU’s current insistence on inclusion of 10/14 rostered overtime in superable salary also has major cost implications, and would require Government approval, given that it would create a precedent, notwithstanding the FBEU’s contention that the Permanent firefighters are in a unique situation
Lastly, the FBEU claim for a rescue allowance at the level proposed would cost in the vicinity of $1 million, which must also be found within existing budget. The Department acknowledges the dedication and special qualifications of SRB qualified rescue operators, and supports payment of an allowance based on what is paid to holders of aerial qualifications. This amount exceeds what is paid to members of Police Rescue Squads.
In relation to payment of the second $350, the ‘Statement of Agreed Framework’ states that:
“A further payment of $350 will be paid on the next pay period from the date of agreement between the parties to the new Crown Employees (NSW Fire Brigades Firefighting Staff) Award.”
The words are clear. Despite the best efforts made by representatives of the Department and FBEU there is, at present, no agreement. Accordingly, payment is presently not possible under the terms of the ‘Statement of Agreed Framework’.
The Agreed Framework document has two matters with an indicative timetable date of 24 February 2000. The first is item 2.3 – “Parties to jointly conclude and implement outstanding commitments under the 1997 Award.”
The second is item 2.6 – “Finalise negotiations to achieve a settled award package. (This contemplates an extension of time to complete negotiations should it be agreed between the parties.)”
I believe that it would be to the mutual benefit of the Department, the FBEU and the Permanent firefighters for the parties to activate the provision in the Agreed Framework document to extend the timetable. This will enable further work to be undertaken in exploring further the claims that are on the table with a view to resolution, and in particular the staff re-allocation proposal; finalising and achieving ‘sign-off’ of matters arising from the commitments in the 1997 Award; and for necessary further work to be undertaken in drafting clauses of the proposed Award. I feel that an extension of four weeks would be appropriate, and for this to be kept under constant review by the parties.
Departmental officials remain available to meet with you at short notice to discuss any issues arising from the award negotiations. Please do not hesitate to contact the Assistant Director Employee Services, Trevor Craft, on 9265 2623 or the Manager Employee Services, Leigh Bray, on 9265 2951 in the first instance.
I D Mac Dougall AC AFSM